Chuck is a Chinook Indian word, a vernacular term that alludes to an intertidal inlet and water-filled tidal basin at the terminus of a river where fresh and salt water mix and are temporarily trapped. Thus sometimes salt chuck, to distinguish saline coastal chucks from freshwater chucks inland, where they’re more commonly called prairie potholes. Along the coast of southeastern Alaska, as in the Petersburg Creek–Duncan Salt Chuck Wilderness, one can find sites called Chuck Creek and Chuck Slough. These basins flood, then drain. A place called Skookumchuck means “turbulent water,” and refers to the times that infusions of salt water roil with water that is fresh. At Salt Chuck on Prince of Wales Island south of Juneau, one local fisherman said the chuck was a unique environment where he had caught “silvers, sockeyes, and the occasional steelie.” The word chuck also refers to food, and so the kitchen—or chuckwagon—pulled across the Great Plains and the western range, where meals were cooked to feed cowboys.

Gretel Ehrlich